The Czech Republic is similar to many European EV markets: neighbour to some markets that are truly taking off, yet domestic adoption is more limited. After attending Elektromobilita 2019 in Prague last month, here are my thoughts on whether we are reaching a tipping point.
A small but ambitious market?
When it comes to EV markets, Europe has "the big five". Norway, Germany, the UK, France and the Netherlands are collectively responsible for 75% of all European EV registrations. Outside of this, volumes of sales are small and the Czech Republic is no exception. As of October 2019, 3,000 EVs (two-thirds of which are BEV with the remainder being PHEV) have been registered in a country of 10 million people.
To put that into perspective, the UK has an EV adoption density of four EVs per 1,000 people. Both France and Germany have EV adoption densities of three EVs per 1,000 people. The Czech Republic only has three EVs per 10,000 people; an order of magnitude difference.
To support this EV uptake, Delta-EE estimates that around 2,000 chargepoints have been deployed in the Czech Republic, split predominantly between fleet depots and individual households. Just over 600 are in the public charging segment.
I was invited to talk at the Forum Elektromobilita 2019, the Czech Republic's annual and leading EV conference. Ambition was on the tip of everyone's tongue with many focused on the charging infrastructure to help the Czech Republic catch up with "the big five". I saw this ambition segmenting three ways across the conference.
Alexander Lewis-Jones answers questions about the evolution of public charging across Europe at Elektromobilita 2019.
1. Government approves tried and tested EV policies
Listening to transport ministers for the Czech Government, I learned of a range of EV adoption mechanisms that have been announced:
- 850 million Kč (28 million Euros) to be spent on public chargepoints;
- 50% match funding for ultra-fast charging projects;
- Waive of tolls for EVs on major highways;
- Designated EV licence plates.
The amount of financial support appears to be commendable, when made relative to the size of the Czech population and vehicle fleet. Targeting motorway-located charging networks is imperative for adoption, as discussed in a previous blog. Match-funding can be an effective mechanism for increasing investor engagement in public charging business models, and, indeed, mirrors similar policies across the continent (e.g. The Charging Infrastructure Investment Fund of the UK).
As match-funding suggests, the government can only achieve its ambitions with similar dedication from the private sector.
2. Home-grown utilities are ready to invest
I was impressed with the depth of talent brought together in just one conference. Representatives of major Czech utilities, including both PRE and CEZ, explained their respective EV strategies. These strategies have been built up by experienced innovators over years.
For me, it was the level of ambition such players were offering or planning to offer that was impressive. Often utilities focus on one segment, such as home or fleets. But CEZ demonstrates breadth across EV charging segments and a willingness to invest in and not just supply to those segments.
Analysis of the different eMobility products and services retailed to private individual and business customer segments.
Despite a small market, CEZ boasts an ambitious portfolio of solutions: Czech Republic’s largest public charging network (170 chargepoints), EV tariffs running on renewable electricity, smart chargepoints for the home and even EV purchase and loan schemes. Only a few players operating in “the big five” match such breadth.
3. German players build their presence
The most referenced individual throughout the day's presentations was Angela Merkel. The influence of Germany within Europe’s combining energy and automotive sectors is abundantly obvious when you come to the Czech Republic.
Both Innogy and E.ON are good examples of strategies to take their experiences and investments from domestic markets and build compelling, profit-making eMobility brands in emerging markets. The ambition to do so in the Czech Republic was clearly high; both are well-established in the country already.
Regardless of ambition, certain German players are likely to have an edge in the Czech Republic due to their pre-established relationships with the automotive sector. With the local manufacturer, Škoda, using Volkswagen's platform for EV production, the influence of German auto makers is especially strong in the Czech market. Existing relationships will help secure technical compatibility as well as open some of the more lucrative routes to the EV charging market, via the car dealership.
Will these ambitions result in a tipping point?
It is tempting to conclude that the coming together of so many key elements of the Czech market under one roof is bound to suggest widespread EV adoption is just around the corner. But it is important to not be hasty.
Structural and behavioural barriers were discussed throughout the conference. While ideas and brands can be imported, most implementation requires adapting local planning policy and winning individual hearts and minds. Even then, the economics must be right.
My takeaway was that the Czech Republic should “think global, but act local”. By this, I mean:
- Learn from “the big five” but do not assume the same uptake pathway. EV technologies have shifted too fast for history to repeat itself.
- Learn from pan-European research to adopt practices of education and feasibility analysis that aid local governments, fleets and individuals make the transition faster.
- Design a public charging infrastructure that would work if implemented across Europe but deliver it in only in the Czech Republic. I.e, promoting interoperability of software and hardware to provide a seamless customer experience.
Not only does this approach promote regional partnerships and support transnational mobility for a landlocked country, it also helps future-proof your investment in infrastructure.
Many thanks to Martin Cmirtal and colleagues at Leeftech for the invitation to present Delta-EE's research at Elektromobilita 2019. I am looking forward to 2020’s event to see how this ambition will evolve.